Well, we’ve had a chance to digest the report of the Iraq Study Group. And while one welcomes this “intervention” by the consigliere of the Republican establishment - James Baker - (plus a smattering of elderly sages and fig-leaf “democrats”) - for infusing a note of reality into what has been a right-wing hallucinatory delusion-fest...
...nevertheless, one has to wonder about the study group’s credibility for several reasons.
1) As Sen. Russ Feingold noted: ”The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place (nor) the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy... to the war on terrorism.”
2) Indeed, the ISG is rife with people who helped to make the basic mess -- members of the administration of Bush Sr., who deliberately left Saddam Hussein in power, in the Betrayal of 1991, when our administration stabbed in the back an Iraqi Shia population that was at that time truly ready and eager to welcome American liberators with “kisses and flowers.”
So much for the group’s profile-of-merit from the perspective of Sane America. As we have noted elsewhere, this kind of process would work better if we had bona fide predictions registries, that would accurately and objectively track (and score) the credibility of so-called wise men, based on their actual record of being right... I mean, being correct..
Nevertheless, an emphasis on global-scale worthiness misses the point. Comments Russ Daggatt:
The point of this whole exercise was to give Bush political cover to change course. It had to seem "bipartisan" and "above the fray." But it also had to be a group that Bush -- not the Democratic party or the American people or the world, but Bush -- might actually listen to. (Ponder any intervention with an alcoholic.) Bush has no interest in policy. He has never had any interest in policy. Everything for him is about politics and power. The world consists of those who are with him or against him. Any hint that the ISG was against him and it would be useless. There is no need to tell the American people this stuff. They have figured it out. That is what the election last month was all about. (Anyone who is still hanging in there with Bush in support of his Iraq war at this point is probably not going to deal with reality no matter who confronts him with it.)
Hence the retro/aged/fogey/conservative nature of the commission is, in this case, a genuine asset.
So, what shall we do, now that there is a consensus that this is precisely the same sort of mistake that almost wrecked our nation back in the era of Vietnam? (Indeed, if some horrible enemy had taken control over our executive branch - say through blackmail or cronyism or Manchurian Candidate brainwashing - and that enemy wished us harm, what plan would they have followed other than to send us into the same kind of blunderous land war of attrition in Asia that was the only major US mistake of the 20th Century? Can you come up with even one better way for such an enemy to use such power?)
Ah, well. Let us (in good will) ponder the options offered by the ISG. According to Daggatt, there are three primary directions we can take in Iraq:
OPTION 1/ The status quo (otherwise known as "staying the course). Simply in its description of current trends in Iraq, the ISG report makes it abundantly clear that what we are doing now isn't working.
OPTION 2/ Increase troop levels. This is the approach being advocated by, for example, John McCain (and the whole "bomb-them-to-the-Stone-Age" crowd). It is not a serious policy prescription (even if you buy off on all the premises that got us into this disastrous war in the first place).
First, we don't have more troops to send. From Monday’s Wall Street Journal:
"... Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, recently told lawmakers that the U.S. couldn't maintain even a relatively small increase of 20,000 soldiers in Iraq for more than a few months. "The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now," he testified in November."
(Note by DB: I find this simply terrifying. The readiness situation is worse than even I thought, and I am among the few who have even raised it as an issue, relentlessly, for the last three years. If Bill Clinton had so thoroughly demolished not only our active duty forces, but our reserves, he not only would have been impeached and convicted, but probably assassinated by now... by many of the same people who now hypocritically avert their gaze and ignore the fact that we are less prepared for surprise emergencies than the nation was, going into Pearl Harbor. Ignoring it because we have been stripped naked by “their” guys.)
Second, if we did have spare forces, we should probably send them to Afghanistan, where there may still be some hope of controlling the situation, instead of Iraq. (DB: I have long maintained that the Afghanistan operation has been totally different. Morally and strategically justified and competently planned and executed. (Especially planned - during the CLinton Administration. And it shows.) Yes, it is a quagmire. But of moderate size and cost. Moreover, in that country, any outside intervention that actually averts outright disaster and does some good is stunningly impressive.)
And third, another couple of divisions, even if we had them to spare, aren't going to make any difference in securing the country and stemming the "sectarian violence" (i.e., civil war).
OPTION 3/ Reduce troop levels. If we can't maintain the status quo and we can't increase troop levels, this is pretty much it. Not surprisingly, that is where the ISG came out. In order to get unanimous approval of its recommendations (and to get Bush to look at it), the ISG made all manner of qualifications and obfuscations on this point. (Like telling the alcoholic to limit, rather than stop, his drinking.) But that is the direction we're headed. And once you start to leave, there is no good reason to drag it out.
DB resumes. Here I don’t necessarily agree. There is a fourth option that I have mentioned in comments:
OPTION 4/ Kurdistan Plus. I believe this approach that might actually accomplish something of value with the troops we have over there, while reducing their exposure and possibly even undoing the harm perpetrated by morons. While assisting the Iraqi government in training and logistics, pull back most of our forces - and actual combat operations - to what I call Kurdistan Plus -- protecting the one part of Iraq that adores us already...
...plus maintaining strong presence in a generous but tractable top tier of Sunni territory, as well. (Maybe fity or so miles in depth. Not only would this region be out of reach of the infamous Sadr militias and the urban maelstroms of Baghdad etc... yet in control over the Syrian border... But it could be within our level of capability to actually pacify competently, even at reduced troop levels (especially with eager/willing Kurdish help).
This would offer Iraqi Sunnis a choice of:
(1) continuing to fight hopelessly against the Shia Government while searching for (harder-to-reach) Americans to kill, or
(2) coming to some kind of understanding with the Shia-led Iraqi government, or
(3) seeking safety in the Northern Sunni Area, voting with their feet to end their insurgency and view Americans as protectors.
Yes, this would seem to be supporting a de facto partition of the country.
So? Deny this and then let the Sunnis and Shias fume. Let them deal with the obvious -- that this is not a situation that they want to see become an accustomed fait accompli. Time will pressure THEM for a change! To start talking fast and get things straightened out quickly, especially if the alternative prospect looks like a permanently expanded autonomous Kurdistan-Plus.
(There is an added, immature reason to do this. Like, maybe, rewarding the people who have NOT spat on us and tried to kill our sons and daughters... our soldiers who - despite blitheringly-awful Washington leadership - have earnestly been trying hard to help people over there.)
Turkey, also, would be motivated to offer its good offices to come up with a regional deal. (Harsher reactions from Turkey might be kept in check by worries about pleasing the EU.) In fact, all three of the regional powers -- Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- would want to start negotiating quick, lest this situation develop into (horror of horrors) a new, de facto state in the north of Iraq. One that is democratic and prosperous and pro-American.... (um, isn’t that what we said we were after?)
Again, this only boils down to common sense. Why not only occupy the parts of the country where we are liked, and not seen as occupiers? There, we could concentrate on rebuilding and protecting those who actually want our protection, and make a showcase that the rest of Iraq would envy.
Concluding Daggatt’s remarks: The one thing to remember about Bush is that he will never, ever admit a mistake about anything. When, in his news conference with Blair this past week, a British journalist implied that Bush was in denial, Bush said, "You wanted frankness—I thought we would succeed quicker than we did. … And I am disappointed by the pace of success."
SUCCEED quicker than we DID? Pace of SUCCESS? This is like describing falling off a cliff as being "disappointed by the height of our ascent."
Finally, since we were just talking about credibility, in the thread about predictions registries, let’s take a little trip down memory lane. Anyone remember who - during the early phases of the Iraq intervention - said the following?
"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
"[M]y belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly, . . . (in) weeks rather than months."
"Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question."
"The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark,"
“This will be a cakewalk.”
Oh, where is a predictions registry when civilization needs one?